Chesterton grew up as a railroad town, but the train doesn’t stop here anymore. The big event seems to be the annual Oz Festival, held in September and featuring some of the real Munchkins from the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. Chesterton also has a year-round Oz Fantasy Museum (route 49 and Yellow Brick Road, 219-926-7048), but unless you’re a die-hard fan you’ll probably want to save the quarter it costs to get in. The museum consists of a one-room collection of vintage Oz kitsch, including a few moving figures (like the ones we see in Field’s windows every Christmas) and some photos commemorating a visit by the Wicked Witch, actress Margaret Hamilton. The attached gift shop is worthwhile if you’re looking to buy Oz-related toys, children’s books, or handmade doll clothes.
A day trip to Chesterton can be a self-guided minicourse in midwestern architecture, thanks to a survey of Porter County sites and structures published by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. To do this, follow the signs on Indiana 49 to the Porter County Visitor Center (800 Indian Boundary Road, 800-283-8687), fork over $10 for the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory, drive to the center of town, park your car, read the introduction, find the section on Chesterton, and start walking. Even novices will soon be picking out the hall-and-parlor houses and Queen Annes.
Chesterton’s newest attraction is the All-Steel Historic Home (411 Bowser, 219-926-3669). Admission to this Lustron house is free, though donations are accepted. It’s open May through October; hours are 1 PM to 5 PM (closed Mondays and holidays). Cap a tour of the Lustron house by heading to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (take Indiana 49 north out of town) for a quick look at four houses from the 1933 World’s Fair (on Lake Front Drive) and a walk on the beach. It’s a five-mile trek from the houses to the 123-foot Mount Baldy dune on the east end of the park.
Downtown Chesterton has lots of browsable antique shops. For lunch, there’s Leonard’s (117 S. Calumet, 219-926-8524). You’re likely to be the only stranger in the place, but settle into one of the aqua vinyl booths, order up the house specialty, a gyros sandwich (or platter), and you’ll soon feel right at home. The sandwich is laden with thick, succulent slices of lamb and crisp chunks of onion and tomato and has to be whittled down to size with knife and fork. Price for the sandwich is $4.20; the platter, with soup or salad, potato, and Jell-O, is a dollar more.
Another favorite with locals is the Northside Diner (across the tracks at 100 N. Calumet, 219-926-9040). The fare is what you would expect: BLTs, burgers, and homemade pie, with a backdrop of 50s memorabilia. This is the place Ed Debevic’s wants to be, though the jukebox was out of order when we visited. For dessert to go, there’s Katie’s Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant (225 S. Calumet, 219-926-3894), a Civil War-era cottage jammed with antiques. Cones are $1.55; 95 cents if you have to stand on tippy-toe to see over the counter.